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Deficit Apocalypse

The San Diego Union-Tribune

The bipartisan two-year budget deal enacted last week may lead to a federal government that functions without arbitrary, pointless showdowns for a refreshingly long period. But it’s impossible to disagree with the senator who stalled the deal — Kentucky Republican Rand Paul — when he says, “The dirty little secret is that, by and large, both parties don’t care about the debt.” The U.S. government is expected to borrow more than $1 trillion to pay for its budget deficit. In these booming economic times, it didn’t have the excuse it had during the Great Recession — that heavy government spending was necessary to head off a global depression.

Yes, the military and many domestic programs can use the increased funding coming their way as a result of the deal. Yes, disaster relief funding for communities from Puerto Rico to California will be very helpful. But our government should pay for these needs, not put the bills on the national credit card. Interest on the debt ate up 6.5 percent of the federal budget in fiscal 2017. With the national debt on track to go from $20 trillion to $30 trillion in 10 years, that percentage could triple. And if interest rates return to normal levels, this grim picture gets even worse. Debt addiction has consequences.

There’s a good chance our children and grandchildren will live in a diminished America as a result. That should matter far more than it appears to.

Charlotte: A refuge from horror

The Charlotte Observer

Every year, some 700 refugees arrive in Charlotte hoping to start a new life. They are all fleeing horrific, usually violent, persecution.

They come from places such as Afghanistan and Syria, Eritrea and Iraq. They do not speak English, and they are dumped into a city they’ve never heard of with a culture that is entirely alien. They strive to find work and establish a more sustainable life for their families in this new, foreign world.

That is made easier by groups like Refugee Support Services. That Charlotte nonprofit, with five staffers and more than 250 volunteers, works to help refugees adjust. They communicate with schools, orient them to the grocery story, help line up medical care, read their mail to them. They help them find friends and build community and become self-sufficient.

“Their spirits are so resilient and they have such great hope,” said Rachel Humphries, co-founder of RSS. “And to come to a community like Charlotte and find people with open arms and welcoming is life-changing for them.”

Last month, the group held a giant birthday party for more than 250 refugees from more than a dozen countries. Many refugees don’t know their birthdate and are assigned Jan. 1 as their birthday upon arrival in the U.S. In a chaotic world and with anti-immigrant status in the U.S. at a fever pitch, it was a reminder of the humanity we should all show to people this country has long welcomed. And it was a small moment that made Charlotte’s newest residents feel just a little bit more at home.

Fund homeless vets, not a military parade

The San Diego Union-Tribune

The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board has always greatly admired and strongly advocated for our armed forces. The men and women of the military deserve our deepest gratitude for their willingness to put their lives on the line to protect their fellow Americans every day. But we suspect many service members agree that having the Pentagon spend millions of dollars on a military parade — as President Donald Trump has made plain he wants to do — is dubious when the military and military veterans have so many obvious needs. That defense funding is going up under the spending plan approved last week doesn’t mean all the problems left from years of tight budgets will be answered.

In October, for example, the Orange County Register reported on a surge in military deaths and injuries off the battlefield that Defense Secretary James Mattis attributed in part to a lack of funds for readiness training. It’s a particularly acute problem with military aviators. Another higher priority than a military parade? The needs of tens of thousands of homeless veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse problems.

Writing for Politico, former George W. Bush speechwriter Matt Latimer suggested that Trump has laid a trap for his critics, whose denunciation of the parade will be seen by patriotic Americans as anti-military sentiment. But it’s not just Trump foes who think the cost of preparing for and staging a parade is hard to justify. Plenty of veterans do as well. They understand better than anyone that the military has far more important issues to address.

San Francisco’s opioid gamble

Los Angeles Times

With the opioid epidemic raging and thousands of people dying from overdoses annually, four California lawmakers proposed a controversial but potentially effective response: letting a handful of counties experiment with safe injection sites.

At these government-sanctioned centers, drug users could bring illicit controlled substances to inject in a clean space with clinical supervision to guard against overdoses. In Canada and Europe, where injection sites have been used for decades, they are credited with saving lives and helping direct addicts into treatment. The sites are among the so-called “harm-reduction” strategies that, along with programs that provide clean needles and equip first responders with a drug that reverses overdoses, are intended to keep drug addicts alive at least until they can get into treatment.

But worries about encouraging drug use among non-addicts, or at least appearing to do so, stymied the proposal in the Legislature. The bill is back again this year, and this time lawmakers should pass it. Meanwhile, the rest of the state isn’t content to wait as the death toll mounts. San Francisco health officials on Tuesday decided to move ahead with what may well be the first safe injection sites in the U.S. by July 1, with or without the blessing of state authorities.

They argued that the damage from drug addiction is so serious — people dying from opioid overdoses and used needles littering the street — that it demands extralegal action. San Francisco is taking a gamble, of course; it’s a violation of state and federal law to operate a facility where people consume illicit drugs. But with even the American Medical Assn. now on record supporting safe injection pilots, California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra has good reason not to spend his limited resources shutting down a few centers created to keep people from overdosing or contracting illnesses from dirty needles. Federal law enforcers have better things to pursue as well.

In addition to the lives potentially saved, the payoff from San Francisco’s efforts will be the data. If the results mirror the very well-examined experiences of the first safe injection center in North America — the Insite clinic in Vancouver — they should quell fears once and for all that these injection centers will just be modern day opium dens. The sooner the effort begins, the better.

Questioning Trump does not equal treason

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The world’s great dictatorships share a common trait: the leadership’s demand for unwavering loyalty from the governed. Even among supposed democracies such as Turkey and Egypt, anyone who dares to “insult” the nation by questioning the ruler’s decisions can land in prison — or worse.

That helps explain why North Koreans will fall all over themselves in displays of hysterical adoration of dictator Kim Jong Un. One widely distributed 2013 video shows soldiers running along a beach in full uniform, midwinter, to greet Kim on a boat. They’re so overcome with adoration they wade waist-deep into cold Pacific waters just to bathe in his aura.

Apparently, that’s what President Donald Trump wants from Congress. After Democrats sat in stubborn silence during his Jan. 30 State of the Union address, Trump accused them of treason.

Trump told an audience in Blue Ash, Ohio, on Monday that congressional Republicans were “going totally crazy, wild” over his speech, and that their repeated interruptions with applause meant that “they want to do something great for our country.”

Democrats’ failure to stand and cheer meant they were “un-American. Somebody said, ‘treasonous.’ I mean, yeah, I guess, why not? Can we call that treason? Why not?” Trump said. “I mean, they certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much.”

Trump conflates patriotism with unquestioning support for whatever words come out of his mouth. Refusing to applaud him or expressing intense dislike of Trump — a feeling shared by many Republicans as well as Democrats — is, in the president’s view, unpatriotic and treasonous.

Once again, Trump’s reckless disregard for word choices moves the nation closer toward the slippery slope of tyrannical oppression. Words matter in a democracy.

We do not support Democrat leaders’ behavior during the State of the Union. In their ham-handed attempt to show disdain for Trump, they disrespected the office of the presidency. In doing so, they proved themselves no better than Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), who shouted, “You lie!” during a speech by President Barack Obama to a joint session of Congress in 2009.

But no American, especially the president, should ever misconstrue disrespect for the individual occupying the Oval Office as signifying treason. Trump is an egotistical and very flawed man, not the symbol of American patriotism. He might try to wrap himself in the flag, but he is not equal to the flag. Americans do not pledge allegiance to Donald Trump.

A president who casually blurts out words like “fake news,” “treasonous” and “un-American” demonstrates how little he understands of our First Amendment rights. Trump no doubt would prefer that all citizens wade waist-deep into cold water to demonstrate their blind adoration of him. But true Americans know better. The minute we cede our right to question our elected leaders, we give up our democracy.

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